Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Half of It

He's working on a project for school right now. It's 9 pm on a Saturday, but let's put that aside. And although it was a project that was supposed to be almost completed at school and only 'enhanced' at home and we actually ended up doing more than 75% of it here, let's put that aside, too. Because he's just spent the last 15 minutes "decorating" the cover of the project, despite the fact that he doesn't ever DO that. And he's working on the cover by himself, which he doesn't ever do either. That's why I'm all about the putting of that other stuff aside.

But the reason I'm writing, and the reason I'm giggling, is that he just called up the stairs to let me know that I'm going to love it when I see it.

"I'm sure I will," I reply. "I always love things you do when you put so much hard work into them."

"Well, you'll also love it because it's like a rainbow, except with black and brown."

"That sounds lovely," I say, smiling to myself.

"Oh, you don't know the half of it," he responds. With exactly the right tone. I don't know where he gets these phrases, but what I really don't know is how he learns to say them with such pitch-perfect aplomb.

And it's true, besides. I don't know the half of it. I may not even know the quarter of it. Except I was right. It is lovely.

(The IEP went fine, by the way. There was the heartbreaking moment, but it was brief, and I got past it. Mostly, there were the "we're very lucky" moments, as different members of his team began to play off of one another, getting excited by the ways they could back up each others' goals. My favorite moment was when the psychologist who works with him heard about the plans the OT has to get him to access the school cafeteria's hot lunch line, which he has never once looked at, much less used. She literally squealed at one point, saying, "Ooooh, and I could..." Even the brand-new SLP, who is very possibly one of N's people from what little I've seen of him, came up with some ways to back up his social skills goals during their speech sessions. We are, indeed, very lucky. There are things that are not happening, and may never happen, which I would like to see happen...but it won't be for lack of caring or passion for my boy. Not everyone can say that.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


N's annual IEP meeting is Monday.

I've been prepping. Like crazy. Emphasis not on the 'like,' but very much on the 'crazy.'

I've talked to his OT, and I know what she's planning on recommending. It involves a reduction in services, but not an annihilation of them. I'm OK with it.

I've talked to his psychologist, and I know what she's planning on recommending. It involves more social-skills related goals, and no reduction in services.

I haven't talked to--or met--his SLT, though Baroy has. From his report, I'm not sure I really care what happens there. (He's not impressed.)

Neither of us has talked to his RSP teacher recently, but I know she won't be suggesting a reduction in his time with her, and that she'll be open to the ideas I want to bring up.

And I also know that his classroom teacher will bring ideas and thoughtful experience with her, having worked with him not only these past few months quite successfully, but as his classroom teacher in second grade.

I've written out a list of questions. I've printed out blog posts and emails to remind me of what I want to say. I have five days, and I'm already pretty much ready.

So why the emphasis on the crazy?

I don't know. That's why it's crazy.

But also, I do know, a little. I know that no matter how well Baroy and I prep for this meeting, something's going to blindside me, and probably not in a good way. Some comment; some thought. Maybe just the putting into words of where he is and/or isn't. That's what IEPs do. They hurt.

I also know that no matter how well Baroy and I prep for this meeting, the plan we put together won't be perfect. Not even close. What N needs doesn't exist at this school, and possibly not in this school district. I say that as if I know what he needs; I don't. But I know that whatever it is, it's not what he's getting, and he's getting pretty much the best of the best they have to offer. He's getting all sorts of services, and some of them have been exceptional, and some of them are just "the best they have to offer," but not the best thing for him.

I also ALSO know that pretty much every single word Stimey wrote here could have been and still could be written about N rather than Jack; in fact, I said so in the comments. And that makes me sad. It makes me wonder if the choices I've made, and the choices I'm about to make, are the right ones, the best ones, all things considered.

Yesterday, in a meeting with my boss that (clearly) veered very much off-topic, I was talking about this very subject. She understands; she has a nephew on the spectrum, and a niece who needs evaluating for some kind of learning difference.

"The problem," I told her, "is that I spend my working life writing about science. But this? This parenting thing? It's blind faith. No way to make a different choice, see how that would have come out. No way to explore the N-related data for various outcomes, and use that information to inform what I do going forward. I know how this particular arm of the experiment is turning out, so far. But I'll never know if he would have thrived in the special day class, or in a private school for special needs kids. I'll never know if he would have been destroyed in that setting, either. I will, simply, never know if what I did was the right thing."

And so on Monday Baroy and I will go in and make some more decisions. We'll push on some things; we'll back off on others. We'll trust, and we'll question. We'll smile, and we'll break a little inside. But we won't know the one thing I need to know. We'll never know if this is the right thing, the best thing, for N.

No matter how much I prep.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Need You To Tell Me I'm Not Losing My Mind

Book lover. Always have been. Read voraciously as a child, voraciously as a younger adult, less voraciously after the kids were born, more voraciously as more of my time frees up.

Although, these days, there's a lot more audiobook listening than there is visual, book-or-Nook-in-hand reading. That's irrelevant, mostly, to this plea for reassurance.

Which is about the following:

The last two books I've listened to were books I would have told you--SWORN to you--I'd read before. They're books on my bookshelf. One of them is on my list of my all-time-favorite books. But here's the thing: They aren't even the vaguest, slightest bit familiar to me.

The first book, my supposed all-time favorite? Great Expectations. Twenty-some enthralling hours of audiobook goodness. And while I remembered Miss Havisham, that could have been from popular culture. None of the rest of the story was even slightly familiar.

The second? The Spectator Bird. Stegner is just incredible. I've been in love with his work since my friend Roseann introduced me to him, literally decades (gulp) ago now. Again, it's on my bookshelf. But this time, it's even worse: Not a single thing about this plot is familiar, except for the protagonist's name. I thought it was a different Stegner book, it seems, though I'm not sure which different book I thought it was.

This isn't good. This is scary. I think maybe I'm losing my mind. Or my memory. I mean, I know I've read too many books in my life to remember their specifics. I often can't even describe the main plot line of even my all-time favorites without picking them up and flipping through them to refresh my memory. But I can always remember how they made me feel, and rereading them reinforces that feeling, brings it all flooding back as I go along. So NOTHING? At ALL? That's not good. It's bad, in fact. It's scaring me. I'm very, very scared.

Please tell me I'm not losing my mind (or, more to the point, my memory). I won't believe you, but I need to hear it anyway.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scenes from the soccer sleepover

[I'm just going to pretend it hasn't been a month and a half almost. OK? OK. Thanks for playing along!]

Early in this AYSO soccer season, Em asked about getting the everyone together at a team sleepover and, in a moment of obvious not-so-early senility, Baroy and I suggested they do it at our house. And thus it came to pass that, on Saturday evening, seven 12-to-14-year-old-soccer players descended upon us, and I put together a taco bar, and Baroy ordered in pizzas, and Em organized a sundae bar for dessert, and there was screeching and squealing and chaos and more laughter than I thought was possible for a single house to contain.

It was crazy, but it was good. Crazy is good, right?

Anyway, so that you can get just a teensy taste of the Good Crazy, what follows is my Facebook status update stream over this weekend, with the occasional meander:

Saturday, 10:51 a.m.: Having Em's soccer team over for a sleepover tonight. WHAT WERE WE THINKING???
My favorite response: That your daughter is awesome and these will be some of her best memories of this age? Oh and you're nuts. ;)  
That was later followed by our friend D: I currently have 7 Cub Scouts spending the night that are jacked up on cake, ice cream and Transformers. Even the dogs are hiding. 
To which Baroy responded: I see your 7 cub scouts and raise you 8 teenage girls. 
Saturday, 6:11 p.m.: Overheard at the soccer sleepover, part I: I like shingles. (Pause.) Not the illness, the house part. Really...I got nothin' else to say on that one.

Saturday, 9:37 p.m.: Wish I could give you more "overheard at the soccer sleepover" reports, but all I'm overhearing now is variations on SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE and AHHHHHHHHHHHHH and HEEEHEEEHEEEEEEEE and OMIGODYOUGUYS!

Saturday, 10:32 p.m.: Things you don't WANT to overhear at the soccer sleepover: Does anybody have a lighter?
Realizing people might not understand, I added the following: To clarify: They're taking photos of themselves being "irresponsible parents" to one of Emily's American Girl dolls, and they were joking about setting it on fire. that I think about it...doesn't really make me feel much better.
Finally, the next day--after falling asleep myself at around 2 a.m. and later finding out the last of the soccer gals had hit the hay at around 5:30 a.m.(!), I posted this:

Sunday, 1:47 p.m.: I wonder if any of us is going to be able to stay up past 8 tonight...
(We did. But not by much...)
All I can say is, if there really is a Parenting Points system? We probably earned enough Saturday night  to make up for that time we accidentally forgot to pick her up from gymastics. What? Oh, don't pretend you never did that, too...

[If and when I get postable photos? I'll post 'em...]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pasts and Predators

While the kids were in Religious School this morning, I took a walk. One of my walking partners is no longer at the synagogue on Sunday mornings; my other was tied up in all-morning meetings with various committees. I needed to move, so I gave my kisses to my friend and excuses to those trying to get me to join their meetings, and headed out.

A coffee and breakfast burrito later, I made a right turn off a main street onto a road I didn't think I'd ever been on before...until I saw the Gymboree sign, and that sign's neighbors, and realized, holy shit. I hadn't thought about this place for about a dozen years. We didn't go sososo often, and I can't even remember who we went with. But we did go for a while, Em and I, sometimes Em and her nanny, A, and Baroy even, a couple of times. When she was an infant, maybe toddler, no more, because by the time she was 'more,' I had another full-time job, and whatever various Mommy and Me programs we'd been doing were impossibilities.

It was odd, standing in my present and looking into my only dimly remembered past. It was odder still because this is a neighborhood I know almost as well as my own, now, six years into our membership at this synagogue, six years into Sunday-morning walks up and down its streets, six years into driving these streets to spend time with our chaverim from shul. And yet I'd never made this turn, onto this street, which in my mind was way south from my present location, a strip mall in the past, not the for-rent sign of today. I stood there for a long time, trying to remember, feeling a little rueful about what the passage of time has done to my ability to recall more than gut emotions, no real faces or names.

Eventually, I moved on, heading up the hill. A garage sale, a for-sale sign, a dead-end street (and that was one long uphill for no good reason, damn it). And then a left turn onto another street, looking down at my iPhone as I checked to be sure my photo of the Gymboree had posted. And looking up just in time, to see threemaybefour coyotes sitting in a perfectly spaced row, as they turned toward me and stared.

I made eye contact, then thought, "Um, no. Not a good idea." And I turned, heading down the hill away from them, quickly, quickly, looking back only to check to be sure they hadn't decided to see where I was going. Because while one coyote would be unlikely to be capable of really taking me down, three? That could have been ugly, is what I'm saying.

Now, a better writer or deeper thinker than I could probably link those two events right now, with the coyotes symbolizing...what? If I knew, I'd make the link, and wrap this post up in a pretty little significant bow. Instead, I'll leave you with this: Now that I'm home, unsnackedupon, I keep thinking that I should have grabbed an Instagram shot of those hungry, mangy-looking beasts instead of a boring old strip mall. A real artist would have.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Still OK

This is what it's like to be the mom of a special-needs boy:

I park the car in the usual spot, which is about a block uphill from the school. This allows me to get out of the area easily after I walk him to The Stairs, rather than getting stuck in the carpool dropoff line. (My boy? Not so much into the dropoff line.) As I pull over, I notice a few kids--including a boy from N's class--walking down the hill from their homes.

"Do you mind if I just wait until M passes to open the car door, Mommy?" N asks.

And just like that. Heart in my throat. Why is he afraid to open the door as this boy passes? What is that little fucker doing to him? Is it physical? Or just name-calling?

We wait the 30 second until the boy and his friends are past, at which point N opens his door and hops out, all smiles. I'm less smiley.

"N," I say in a quiet, confidential voice as we begin to walk toward the school, a good 20 yards behind the child whose back is being stabbed by the arrows shooting from my eyes. "What does M do to you?"

He looks genuinely confused. "Do to me?"

"Why didn't you want to open the door when he was walking past? Is he threatening you? Making fun of you? Hurting you?"

"Uh, NO!" he said, with real vehemence. "I'm shy of him. I didn't want to have to say good morning, or walk in front of him or next to him. I like being behind better."

If he were a kid who understood sarcasm just a little better, he would instead have simply stuck his hand out and said, "HELLO? Have you MET me?"

Of course. This was about N, not M (who, isn't a little fucker, it turns out, and sorry about the arrows in your back, kiddo).

You'd think I would have known. You'd think.

So, in case you were wondering? School's going just fine. Everything is still OK. Once Mommy got her head out of her ass, that is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Same Old N

School started today. My first-born BABY started high school. I cannot say any more about that, or I will begin sobbing, and it's just unseemly to sob over your laptop keyboard when everyone's already asleep in the house. So yeah. High school, for the love of Pete. She's taking French, and modern dance, and a medical biology course that's somehow different from regular ninth grade biology, and is taught by a woman who works as a microbiologist on the weekend. She's taking algebra, and an English course in which she'll be reading Shakespeare, and a drama elective in which her TA is a guy who played Voldemort in a version of "A Very Potter Musical," which Em and her friends saw earlier this summer.

My baby's drama teacher is Voldemort. Can you tell we live in LA?

N started fifth grade today, which makes me much less likely to burst into tears. Especially since he got the same teacher he had in second grade, the teacher we all loved so very, very much. His assessment of the first day of school was that it was "perfect." Can't ask for more than that.

The story I want to tell about him, though, is really more about his friend A, a girl he's been more and more attached to as the years have gone by. She's the friendliest kid, sweet as pie. N had been worrying about her as school approached, because of a family situation he doesn't really understand enough to talk with me about, but which led him to believe she might not be returning to school this year. So, after we'd determined which class he was in (don't ask about the not-telling-until-the-morning-school-starts thing), and who his teacher was, the first thing we did was scan the class list (there's only one full fifth-grade class in our teensy little school of just over 400 kids) for this girl, and there she was. We all heaved a sigh of relief.

Which meant nothing when we arrived in front of the classroom and actually SAW her, of course. She was chatting with some of the other girls in their grade, but eventually saw us, and made her way over. N's response to her cheery, smiley, enthusiastic hello? He crossed his arms over his chest and turned his back to her.

I started to cringe, to apologize to this tiny 10-year-old. But before I could get even a whisper of a he's-just-nervous-because-of-the-first-day-of-school-but-he's-really-excited-to-see-you explanation out, she turned to Baroy and me, her smile not faltering one second. "Same old N!" she said, her grin possibly even widening some. And then she waited for him to collect himself, to peek around and smile back at her, if only for a second.

Would it be overly dramatic of me to say that I had a tiny little epiphany in that moment? It might be; but I did. And it was this: It's not all going to be about N learning to fit in with the other kids. It's also going to be about the other kids--not all of them probably, but some, enough--learning to appreciate N for who he is, quirks and all.

It was one of the first times ever that I saw in action what I often hear my special-needs-parenting peers talk about--advocating not for cures or the forcing of square pegs into round holes, but advocating for acceptance of our kids as they are. Making sure people see them as they are, as WHO they are, and, least some of those people to smile and say, "Same old N," as if that were a good thing.

None of which is to say that I don't believe N needs to learn how to greet a person he hasn't seen in a long time, to figure out how to handle that rush of emotion--even positive emotion--and not need to shy away or shut down. I'm not implying that at all. But if he never quite gets all the way there? My hope for him is many, many more As in his life; people who will see that trait as something uniquely N, understand where it comes from, and simply accept it. Accept him. And perhaps, even, smile affectionately as they do it.

Friday, August 26, 2011


There were several times today, on my first baby's 14th birthday, that I almost burst open with the pride of being her mother. She knows how to be a friend...and when she falters, she's quick to listen to advice. She's almost freakishly mature for her age. She's almost freakishly mature for MY age.

The stories that really define my girl these days are generally not stories I can tell. Not for me to tell the stories about helping one friend, or soothing another's ruffled feathers, or chiding a third when she seems to be going astray.

So instead, let me tell you about this one day, the day after the day on which Baroy and I helped register her for high school, watched as she picked up her schedule and her ID and her books, and took much longer to get over the fact that she didn't make the soccer team than she did.

Today, Em's 14th birthday, started with her brother jumping atop her on her bed to give her his present...and then continued with him hiding under her covers while I sang Happy Birthday, a song that unaccountably freaks him out, and always has.

It continued, then, with a mother-daughter lunch at Tony Roma's, our special place. After lunch, we wandered around for a short while, then decided the heat was just more than we could bear, so headed home to await her girlfriends, who were finishing up their various color guard/cheerleading practices.

The original plan was for me to take the five girls to a local botanical gardens, where they were planning to a kind of photo shoot. (Em has a camera that's more expensive than the last three I've used put together...but she saved up for and bought it herself, and she uses it, so I have no complaints.) Mr. Sun had other plans, however--plans that included temperatures of over 100 at 5:30 this evening. So, instead, they asked to be chauffeured to the mall. Em wasn't too upset about it; she's been wanting to go to the gardens, sure, but she also had a Forever 21 gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so it was a perfect alternative.

Driving five 14-year-old girls around is something else. And that's all I'll say about that. At least until the ringing in my ears subsides.

Baroy picked them up a few hours later, dropped off the other girls, and returned Em home for her requested family dinner of chicken fricassee. Almost as soon as we finished chewing, the neighborhood kids began to arrive for the annual destroying of my backyard, also known as celebrating Em's birthday in their own traditional, if idiosyncratic, manner. (It involves me having both a cake for them to eat, and a cake for them to smash into Em's face...and then letting it all devolve into a complete free-for-all involving more cake, silly string, and the backyard hose. It's a mess, but it's worth it to watch them scream and giggle and enjoy the hell out of themselves once a year. Of course, I can say that, because it was Baroy who cleaned up after them.)

And now, Em and two of those friends are in a tent in the water-soaked backyard, having a sleepover. Except not so much on the sleep, at least not yet. But, you know, the night's still...well, not so much young as middle-aged.

Lest you think the festivities are coming to an end, there's a trip to the water park tomorrow, to celebrate a few other friends' August birthdays as a group.

Because, really. No matter how mature you may be, you're never too old for a smash cake and some water slides.

Happy birthday, Em. You make my heart sing. I love you.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Liner

At the circus, sno-cone cup in hand, N looks into the plastic tiger's eyes, then over at Baroy and me. "I think I'll name him Newspaper," he says.

It takes us two or three full beats before we both start howling.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's Not Possible

It's not possible that my first baby, the one who made me a mother--who literally made me who I am today--was promoted into high school this morning. (She's in that photo, somewhere....) These kids came walking in, looking for all the world like actual young adults, as if this was real, as if they were really growing up.

I refuse to accept it. It's just not possible.

It's also not possible that my baby baby was promoted into fifth grade today, too. With comments on his report card that are as different from last year's teacher's final words (even though in many ways they were similar in content) as his first day of school was different from the entire previous year's horrible experience.
N occasionally shares answers with the entire class. His comfort level with others continued to expand this trimester to include even more students and situations. He was able to work more independently more often than in the past. ...
The growth--personal, if not physical. It's incredible. How can he be so heading-toward-grown-up already? How is that possible?

Summer is on. That, too, seems impossible. And Southern California seems to agree with me, since it keeps producing winter-like weather--clouds, drizzle, temps in the 60s.

See? Time doesn't march on. It stays still. Still, I say. Be still, my babies. Stop moving so fast. Stop moving away from me so fast.

(I'm so proud of you, both. So proud.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Whose Idea Was It To Have Dogs Again?

Really, Snug? A skunk? At 11:00 at night? You needed to kill it and get sprayed in the face by it (though probably not in that order) and then later come running into the and your not-quite-as-stinky-but-still-plenty-smelly companion?

My house smells. Snug smells, despite the outdoor dousing in oatmeal shampoo we gave him. (Yes, next time we WILL have something a bit more up to skunk-busting at hand; oatmeal was way to wimpy for this job.) Dobby smells, because he stuck his nose into all the proceedings. And there's a dead skunk in a bag in my garbage, just in case the vet needs to see it. And also because we didn't know what else to do with it.

And once again, N slept through it all. He was pissed about the opossum; when he hears he missed a dead skunk, he's really going to be displeased.

Me? I'm over it. Not that I was ever under it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Idiomic Reality

Dobby was outside barking his fool head off; he does this now and again. It was late. Well, lateish. I didn't want the neighbors bothered. So I went to the back door and called him.

This usually works. It almost always works. But tonight, he kept barking. Finally, when my calls turned to commands, he obeyed. But as Dobby was coming in the back door, Snug was exiting. Seconds later, he'd reappeared...with a large creature in his mouth. He dropped it at my feet. It was a not-an-infant-but-not-full-grown opossum. And it was dead.

"Baroy!" I yelled. "Snug just brought a dead possum into the house!"

Baroy came into the family room, Em trailing right behind.

"Em, get me a garbage bag," Baroy said finally, after staring at the lump o' possum for a few seconds.

"And an oven mitt," I added. Because right then, I'd noticed the opossum blink. "He's not dead."

In fact, as we were about to learn when Baroy reached to pick him up, he was very much not dead. So much not dead that he sprang to his feet and dashed toward Baroy's desk.

But Baroy was faster than he; he grabbed the creature by its tail, and held it susupended in the air.

"Put it outside, over the fence to the side of the house, so the dogs can't get at him again," I told Baroy, and he headed out the door.

"What was he doing?" Em asked then, pointing to the animal. (She'd cowered outside the room after she'd delivered the supplies, so had missed the events.)

It was then that I realized: "He was playing possum," I said.

* * * * *
Minutes later, as Baroy was putting Nature's Miracle on a wet spot we simply did not want to know the origin of (god, I hope that stuff works on possum pee), he looked up at Em and me. We were standing near each other, making frightened-and-grossed-out girl noises.

"Why did I have to do that?" he asked. It was a rhetorical question, but I chose to answer it anyway.

"Who has the penis in the family?"

"Not us!" said Em.

Baroy shook his head, disgusted.

Later (after an incident in which Baroy had gone outside to make sure there were no other half-dead young possums in our yard and stepped in some dog poop, but didn't discover it until he'd walked through the house and back out again...and the less said about that the better) the "why me?" conversation came up again.

"Well, would you prefer me to have picked up and possibly been attacked by a rabid possum?" I said, indignant.

"Hell, yeah," said Baroy. "But I knew it wasn't going to happen."

"Ach!" I said in mock disgust, gesturing toward him but looking at Em. "See? Chivalry is dead."

"No, chivalry is not dead," said Baroy. "I took care of it. I didn't make you do it."

"Fine then," I replied. "Chivalry isn't dead. It's just really reluctant."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

At the Dog Park

I vacillate on the autism thing, and how it applies to N. I use it around the school, because it is a strap, a grabbing-on point, a way for people to understand my son and--very much more to the point--to justify putting forth time, effort, and especially money to help him. I use it because doctors and therapists have used it to describe him. I use it because it's the primary disability listed on his IEP. But there are so many ways in which he doesn't seem, to me, to fit on the spectrum part of the spectrum. I describe him, often, as the triangular peg who not only doesn't fit in the round hole, but doesn't look all that much like the square peg, either.

And yet.

And yet, professionals of all stripes see him on a regular basis, and talk to me about him with concern about his disabilities, or with delight over his abilities, or with awe over the way he turns the former into the latter.  They never say to me, "You're a fraud. He's fine. There's nothing wrong with this kid. Get out of my office and stop wasting the taxpayers' money."

And yet, other moms of kids on the spectrum see him and smile at him and recognize him. They never say to me, "Get out of here. This kid doesn't belong with my kid. This kid isn't autistic. You're no longer welcome in our club."

And yet, when a girl from the school's Special Day Class was mainstreamed into N's classroom for one period a day last year, she was the one and only friend he had in class. When we go to a school function together, he looks shyly and somewhat longingly at the other kids in his class or grade, but ends up sidling over to that same girl and the other kids in her class, who he's gotten to know on the playground. When we go to a birthday party, he finds the one other autistic child at the event to hang on the outskirts and not-talk with, until they discover that they both don't mind being bopped over the head with a balloon, and then they spend half an hour doing that while the other kids do, you know, the actual party stuff.

That's what's always confused me. N doesn't identify as autistic, or even as special needs. He doesn't ask me about why he's different; despite the number of pull-outs and therapists and various other accommodations that the other kids clearly do not get, he never mentions being in any way unlike the rest of the children he spends his days with. He's never asked me why learning is hard for him, or why he needs speech therapy. (I've tried to bring it up many times, but he deflects, and I'm not going to force him into a conversation about it if he's not ready.) He doesn't even seem to realize that some of his behaviors are odd or unusual or babyish or even gross...even if I point them out as such. (His general response to any attempt to modify such behaviors is, "But I like it!") And yet? The kids he so often identifies with are all those things: autistic, special needs, different.

I don't get. Or, rather, I didn't.

Today, I read this amazing post about John Robison over at PLoS Blogs. It's worth taking the time to read every single word of it, truly. But it was this part of Steve Silberman's interview with John that stopped me cold, made me gasp with recognition, made me stop--for today, at least--wondering and worrying so much about the "fitting in":
I talked to Temple Grandin about this. I told her, “I’m afraid that when I talk to groups of people with really serious autistic disability, they’re going to think I’m a fake autistic person, because I can talk so well.” Temple said, “No one with autism is ever going call you a fake autistic person. People with autism are like dogs in the park — they absolutely positively know what’s a dog and what’s a cat. A German shepherd can come up to a dachshund and he will never mistake a dachshund for a cat.” And that turned out to be true for me.

So many times, I’ve seen it in myself going the other way. All these people come up to me at booksignings and stuff and I say, “Ah, I see you’re a fellow Aspergian,” and they say, “How do you know?” And I say, “You know, I don’t know.” Sometimes they’re insulted, because they worked so hard in school, and they look so good, and they have friends and stuff. They’re almost insulted that I picked it out. But I don’t always know what it is about them.
Whether he's Asperger's or PDD or even something else along the spectrum--something not quite clearly articulated in any DSM or even in my own mind--my kid knows he's a dog, and can find the other dogs to play with.

Nobody is going to kick him out of the dog park for being a chihuahua even if most of the other pups around are terriers and retrievers. I need to stop worrying about it, and just let him play.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Am Aware

I am aware, these Autism Awareness days—though they're on the wane—almost entirely of the strides and gains.

It would be hard not to be, right now. They’re earthshaking. I’m surprised seismographs across California haven’t picked up on these events, or on the pride they’ve engendered in me.

I might have said it differently. I might have said that, recently, my boy has met almost every goal we've set for him. But the thing is, almost none of what has come up recently was even on our radar as a goal, because NOBODY thought he was ready for ANYTHING like this.

Here's just a taste, my friends, of the goodness that is moving forward:

1. There was a science fair, with projects required of all fourth graders. N came home early in the process, announcing that A—a girl who has long been one of the few kids he calls "friend," though there have never been any outside-of-class social overtures on either side—and he would be partnering for the project. Who picked who? How did this come about? We didn't dare ask. We just held our breaths when, a few days later, A called N on the phone to talk about the project sheet they had to fill out…and he got on the phone with her. GOT ON THE PHONE WITH HER. AND TALKED. There may even have been some giggling.

And then. THEN. Over spring break, A came over to our house to work on the project. TWICE. They worked together, and then played together afterward, and she DIDN'T WANT TO LEAVE WHEN HER MOM CAME TO PICK HER UP.

(I'm sorry about the caps. BUT DUDE. YOU HAVE NO IDEA how exciting, how…WOW.)

And then again. THEN AGAIN. At the science fair, they stood, side by side, and talked to people about their project. OK, mostly she talked. But he stayed. And he handed the kids the wave bottle they'd made together, and watched them play with it. Like that was REGULAR for him. Like it was NOTHING.


2. Then there was the annual synagogue trip to a family camp, where he hung with this counselors, and slept in his bunk, and didn't even want to spend the couple of hours on Saturday morning designated as "family time" with me; he wanted to play bball with his boys. Fine by moi. I just grinned and waved as he went off.

But that's not the boggling part of this story. Before I get to the boggling part, remember: My child's main "issue," socially, has been a form of selective mutism. He doesn't often like being looked at or noticed by large groups of people, but he can stand it. But to speak to people? Especially under pressure or duress? When called on, and not volunteering on his own? Just not something N does.

So: The tradition is that, at the end of the weekend, everyone stands in a circle and shares their feelings about the trip. It was the first time in the four years we've gone that Noah had even been willing to stand in the circle (with his counselors, not anywhere near me). When it was his turn to speak, he turned away for a second, and the rabbi started to speak on his behalf, knowing N as he does, and that trying to push him would not be useful. But then, suddenly, N was talking. In front of, oh, 40 or 50 people! Just a few words ("I just wanted to say...counselors ROCK!"), but loud and clear. I caught my breath, and heard sharp intakes all around me. And afterward, at least two other members of our congregation came up to me, tears streaming from their eyes: "Did you see him? Did you HEAR him? I can't believe it!"

3. But wait. It only gets better: To top it all off, at golf class the other day, there was one boy who was mouthing off to another boy, and it was getting ugly. And then…there was N, stepping between, telling the first boy he needed "to stop it."

Stepping between. Talking to a kid he doesn't know well. A belligerent kid. Who wasn't even picking on him. I'm…I'm…

But the best part was that, when N heard Baroy telling me the story, he grinned half-shyly, half-proud of himself and gave his shoulders a half-shrug. "I was just trying to protect my friend H," he said.

Just trying. To protect. His friend.

Not a goal. Not even a vague, half-formed hope. I wouldn't have dared.

I am aware, these Autism Awareness days, that my kid rocks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What She Said

Don't you just hate it when someone else takes the words right out of your mouth, leaving you with nothing to say?

Don't you just love it when someone else takes the words right out of your mouth, leaving you with nothing to say?

Thanks, Kristen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More N Deliciousness

It was just after Religious School, and I'd run into our rabbi outside his office; he'd stopped to chat with me. Once N's friends had all dispersed, N joined us. Somehow, the topic turned to fruit; I think N was eating a tangerine.

"What kind of fruit has its seeds on the outside?" N asked suddenly. It's a 'riddle' he likes to bring up any time the word fruit arises in conversation; he learned it in his PE class, where the teacher throws them one or two word/logic type puzzles a week.

"A strawberry," Rabbi answered promptly.

I laughed; N is used to stumping people with that one. "Ah, see? Rabbi knew, N!"

N turned to me, rolling his eyes. "Duh, Mom. He's a rabbi. He's supposed to know everything."

Rabbi literally roared with laughter. Wiping his eyes, he patted N on the head. "Hate to break it to you buddy, but I don't know everything."

N looked at him levelly, then shrugged. "But you know God's name," he said. That, clearly, settled the issue; he turned and walked away, while Rabbi and I just looked at each other and grinned.

Dear name-of-God. That kid.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Your Son: An Email Exchange With N

[Verbatim. Because if this doesn't translate on its own--and it may not, I may be the only one guffawing here--no amount of embellishment or explanation is going to help.]

From: N
To: TC
Subject: your son

ples writght me back


From: TC
To: N
Subject: Re: your son

Hi, my son! ;-)

I love you.


From: N
To: TC
Subject: Re: your son

ok wright more complents

From: TC
To: N
Subject: Re: your son

I'm not sure what "complents" are. Do you mean compliments? Do you want me to tell you how much I love you? Or how good you are at golf? And how much I enjoy reading stories you write?


From: N
To: TC
Subject: Re: your son

to many questins

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dobby Has No Master, But He Does Now Have a Family

So we've been out and about a lot lately. I'm not just talking about my trip to New York with N, to see my folks and celebrate my mom's mumbledieth birthday (best reaction to a surprise ever!), or even to the fact that, while we were there, Em and Baroy spent a 12-plus-hour day at Disneyland. I mean I'm working more hours than usual; Em, at 13, has the social life exceptionally busy 13-year-old; N has his 73 different after-school activities; and Baroy's been working on more than the usual number of projects, including a documentary about a special-needs soccer team. (No, N's not on it. More on all that one of these days.)

What all this means is that Snug's been on his own more than we'd like him to be. For most of the five years he's lived with us, he's had near-24-7 human companionship. But no more. And so we've worried. We've fretted. We've felt guilt.

Enter Dobby, that sleepy-headed, only-been-here-five-day-but-can't-imagine-life-without-him-already moppet at the top of this page. How ever did we find him? Via Facebook, natch.

Officially, we're doing a favor for one of Baroy's friends, a woman involved with a rescue group; the foster mom taking care of this particular mutt (and I mean mutt, since I see about 45 different breeds in him--from Wheaten to wolfhound to scotty to possibly corgi) was going out of town for a month, and she put up some photos and a plea for someone else to step in and fill the gap.

Step in we did. But any filling of gaps was all Dobby. Especially if you're talking about the gap in our family...the one we didn't even know we had.

And so, in less than a week, we've named him and bought him toys and taken him for walks and introduced him to friends and given him a new collar, tossing the raggedy one he came to us with. And while Snug pretends to find him annoying, the two of them are already spending half the day running around the backyard playing tug-o-war with one or another toy, and the other half sleeping butt to butt on the couch. At night, Snug has continued his working-dog tradition of curling up at the bottom of N's bed, a boy-guard like no other; Dobby's lost no time in staking out a place to stretch out alongside Em on her bed. (And here I thought it wasn't possible for things to get any more gaggingly cute at our house.)

As long as Snug gets his food first, and there are no bones to jealously guard from the interloper, and we make sure to ignore Dobby in favor of Snug when we walk into the house after any absence...he's plenty happy to share his home with the new kid in town.

Which is good, since there's not a chance Dobby's going anywhere.

People let me tell ya 'bout my best friend...

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Club

I was spending the weekend with three of the world's most amazing women; Baroy was spending the weekend helping film a documentary that involves special needs kids. (More on both of those in more detail in the not-too-distant future.)

On Sunday, they were filming--among other people--N's occupational therapist (who is, if you ask me, a not-so-minor deity). Because Em has expressed interest in seeing how filmmaking works, and since I wasn't at home, he ended up taking both of them for a full day of filming.

By the end of the day, I'm told, N was done. D. O. N. E. He began to whine and suck his thumb and just generally get under everyone's feet...and skin. So, Em told me later, during the last interview of the day, pulled him onto her lap and held him tight, giving him the oh-so-calming sensory input that, really, almost all of us would do well with when things are just more overwhelming than we can handle. But, I digress.

They were, by this time, filming the family of a boy from Em's middle school who has autism; at one point, the boy was talking about going to a Galaxy soccer game, and how he felt about it. He said he felt nervous, and the interviewer asked him why. "I get nervous being around people I don't know," he admitted.

It was then, Em says, that from her lap came the barely audible sound of her brother's whisper. "Join the club," he said. "Join the club."

I recently pulled aside the aforementioned OT after a session in the clinic, to ask if it was unusual that N really never acknowledges his differences in any real way; doesn't seem to notice that not every child goes to RSP twice a day, has clinic and at-school OT sessions, gets pulled out for speech, gets pulled out for a little weekly psychotherapy.

"He's ten," I said, twisting my mouth a bit. "Shouldn't he recognize what's going on by now?"

"Well," she said. "by ten you might expect him to recognize his differences, maybe be concerned about them. Or, at least, you would know...he didn't have a developmental delay." She emphasized the last two words, raising her eyebrows at me slightly, ever-so kindly, but meaningfully. "Which is, of course, why he's here in the first place."

I got it. I dropped it.

But now, I think, it may not be a delay. It may just be that recognition comes in many forms. It may just be that--despite the fact that he never cries about being "different," never asks about his quirks, never really talks about them as quirks--he sees himself clearly nonetheless. It may just be that he sees himself in others, that he gravitates toward 'his people,' and that he recognizes likenesses instead of differences.

It may just be that he sees himself as part of a club. Club Quirky. Club Spectrum. Club N.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

He's Got Skills, All Right

There's ugly stuff going on at our tiny little synagogue. Political, maddening, saddening stuff. Where it will end, no one knows. I'm not sure there's a way back, but I'm not calling the game over quite yet. Where there's faith, there's hope. Or something like that.

But all that's too much for me right now. Too hard, and too long, and too complex, and not really all that much my story to tell. I'm pretty much peripheral to it, though it's been at the center of my thoughts for weeks now.

Which is why, instead, I want to tell you a light little shul story. One that focuses on our temple family, and not on its dysfunction. One that involved laughter to the point of tears, instead of just tears.

This weekend was the bat mitzvah of one of Em's closest friends, the daughter of one of my closest friends there. That meant that all of the key players in my part of our temple's little world were at services on Friday night. And as we are wont to do when we're all together, there was a lot of musical pews going on. Em was in the front row with her posse, all of them cheering on their friend as she led parts of the service. Baroy settled himself a few rows back. I flitted a bit--first next to Baroy, then to quickly whisper to the mother of the bat mitzvah, then to another friend who'd recently arrived. N has never sat in one place for more than 30 seconds during any service. Never. So he was doing his thing, too.

At one point, two of my mom-friends, C and F, were sitting near the back, and N plopped himself down between the two of them. C started idly rubbing his back. After a moment or two, N looked over at F and said, "This feels sooooo good. But you know what would feel better? Two hands!" And then just smiled brightly at F.

C was telling me this story later that evening, and I stopped her at this point. "So how long did it take F to start rubbing his back too?" I asked.

"Twelve milliseconds," she replied. And then started laughing, the kind of laughter that turns into painful gulps of air, tears streaming down your face.

"The thing is," she said, "at that moment, I just sort of flash forwarded about ten years..." And that was all she could get out, until she'd gained enough control to choke out, "I think it's possible that he doesn't really need those social skills therapies, you know? I think it's possible that he's going to be more than just fine."

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Big Bear Miracle

We've been coming up to Big Bear every year for the past nine years.
Each year, N has been terrified of sledding down the hill across from the house we stay in.
Most years, he has refused to even get on a sled once the entire weekend.
Every now and again, he's agreed to go on with Baroy. Once. Only.
Last year, just days before we came up here, he had surgery for an undescended testicle. Obviously, he wasn't allowed to sled. In classic contrary kid fashion, he spent the entire time complaining about the restriction. We just rolled our eyes.
This year, freed from the threat of popped stitches and uncontrolled bleeding, he insisted he was planning to spend the entire weekend making up for what he missed last year. Again, we rolled our eyes. We knew better.
We were so very, very wrong.

Neither crash, nor 62nd crash, nor sled washed out to sea (OK, lake...sticklers) could stop this child.
(Yes, that is specifically why we couldn't let him sled last year. Can you imagine?)

Somehow or other, they managed to get that sled back. I'm not sure i want to know.
He was the first over the father-built moguls, the first up the hill after each run, and the last in the house after each excursion out. 

His sister had a blast, too. But that's par for her course.

But for him? For us? It was a Big Bear Miracle.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books I Listened to in 2010

I'm starting this with optimism: that I will finish it before December of 2011, that I will get all the books into this one post, that anyone will bother to read it (or skim it) to the end. I am nothing if not optimistic. (Several of TC's friends snort derisively.)

This was a big year for audiobooks. It was, for one thing, the Year of Harry Potter. Jim Dale...I've listened now to probably close to 150 or more audiobooks, and he is hands and feet and all other appendages down the best narrator out there. I tried reading these books, mind you...several times. Never got past the first few chapters of Sorcerer's Stone. But I absolutely ATE these up. Was entranced, from beginning to end. And I don't DO genre. Especially not popular genre. I'm just too snobbish. It's a fault. Jim and Harry are the overwhelming exception to my rule.

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen: I think this was the first time I'd read this; I thought I'd done a full Austen tour back in the day, but upon listening to the story, I realized I must have missed this one. Imagine my delight in getting to read a "new" Austen! Love. Her.
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling: My journey begins.
3. Bonk by Mary Roach: Subtitled "The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex," this is, as many people have said, the kind of book you just want to stab yourself in the eye for not having thought of writing. The only problem with that would have been that the Mary Roach wouldn't have written it, and it wouldn't have been quite so pitch perfect.
4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: This is actually my least favorite Austen, by which I mean I'll only reread it incessantly *after* I've reread all her other books.
5. The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld: Sorry. I didn't love Prep, and I really didn't love this.
6. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: Two disappointments in a row. This wasn't a book; it was never supposed to be a book. Sorry, Carrie.
7. Fool by Christopher Moore: I really do love Christopher Moore. This had some off moments, but overall, it got me.
My first night of Hanukkah present.
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling: LOVE Dobby. Need I say more?
9. Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier: Here's the problem with leaving a lot of these descriptions until the end: I can't remember if I actually finished this book. I seem to recall giving up on it somewhere in the middle. If I didn't, then I can't remember the ending. So I hope I did.
10. Wild Child by TC Boyle: Boyle's a master, no doubt, but this was no my favorite of his colletions of stories. And I can't quite put my finger on why.
11. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling: Not sure who I love more, Sirius or Lupin. Of course, I know enough about this series to know that I shouldn't bother to become overly attached to either of them…
12. No One Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July: Quite possibly the most depressing stories I've ever read. Incredible writing; can't point out exactly why, but take my word for it. Incredible.
13. The Women by TC Boyle: I'm not sure I agree with a lot of his choices in this book. (Why go backwards? Why so much focus on Miriam in all the 'parts'? Why not tell Kitty's story?) And it took me a while to warm up to the story overall. And yet, I found a lot of it fascinating and gripping nonetheless.
14. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling: Ah, Mad-Eye. I'm so conflicted about my love for me.
15. You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs: These just didn't do it for me; they have their moments, but overall...just not quite there.
16. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See: I generally hate books in which there is a lot of secrecy and lying and the potential for it to all explode. But I didn't hate this one at all. The ending flummoxed me, if only because it felt more like cliffhanger than anything else. (Is there a sequel coming?) And it didn't transport me the same way Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, in particular, did. But it entertained.
17. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: I wasn't expecting much. Surprise! I got a really fun twisty 'ghost story.' I enjoy almost any book whose plot manages to surprise me, and especially those whose endings manage to satisfy me. This did both. Yay! A definite not-really-expected big ol' recommend.
18. My Man Jeeves by PG Wodehouse: Oh, Bertie. Oh, Jeeves.
19. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling: No, seriously. Did Harry give one real, genuine smile in this entire book? Have a single lighthearted moment? I think not. This was my least favorite, though it had some truly great lines. (Also...SOB. Oh, you who I won't name so I won't spoil it for the .23 people who have yet to read the series. I'll miss you!)
20. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: I already wrote about this. But, to sum up, WTF, Audrey, with that ending? You had me--again, against my expectations, with yet another ghostish story--up until about the last quarter of the novel. But the end? Pissed. Me. Off.
21. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling: Now, see? This was a fun book, death and destruction and heartbreak aside, of course.
22. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling: I always hate endings, but this one, after seven books and all those hours of listening, could have REALLLLY pissed me off. It didn't. It needed a big bang, a true conclusion, and a (relatively) happy ending. And it delivered.
23. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: I write about science for a living; I've even written about HeLa (the cells, though, not the woman). Reading science books, to me, often feels like the proverbial busman's holiday. Not this time, though. Powerful story, emphasis on STORY. Bravo. If you read one nonfiction book this year or ANY year, this is the one to go for.
24. Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup: My new boss K recommended this to me; I was worried that a book about a minister--in no matter HOW cool a ministry, and a forest-ranger ministry is WAY cool--would just not quite do it for me. I was wrong. I like Kate. I want to be her friend and hang out with her. But not in a helicopter over dense forests. Just in case she was thinking of calling to ask me...
25. Angle of Repose by Wallce Stegner: I mentioned in a previous book post this week that I can never decide between this and Crossing to Safety when naming my favorite Stegner. Since this is what I listened to most recently, it's definitely this one. Masterful. And much more sweeping. Though Safety's pretty kickass too!
26. I Know I Am, But What Are You by Samantha Bee: Nope. Sorry, Sam. More shtick than substance. And I didn't really think of it as a memoir, because half the stuff didn't ring even slightly true; there were so many internal inconsistencies due to what must have been significant instances of exaggeration that...I just didn't laugh that much. And it was supposed, if not else, to be funny.
27. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby: I will say this; I didn't expect to love this book, though I do love Nick Hornby in general. It's about music, and I'm not a music fan. But, oh, I loved it. It felt so true and insightful. Really, really good.
28. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: This blew me away. The last quarter depressed me; I didn't want what I saw about to happen to happen. And then it did. And THAT depressed me, too. But still. Beautiful. Real characters and fictional character meshed perfectly, and minor characters came completely to life. I was really impressed.

Woot! I did it!!!! In one go. In early January. Now I can sleep.

Thanks for reading. Or pretending to. I'll never know the difference.